The Shrinking Niche

Posted: 2 August 2013 in Reflections

“I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.” – JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.

This year, during my beloved’s annual absence, I set off for the local Friendly Local Gaming Stores with high expectations, a smile and a credit card as is my wont, and discovered something sad.

They’re all gone.

Of the three within an hour’s drive that aren’t Games Workshop, one was in the middle of a closing-down sale, one had reduced its stocks to a few boxes of Warhammer figures and some packs of Magic: The Gathering cards and is clearly not long for this world, and the third has quite sensibly shifted its business to chess, go, eurogames and those soft porn jigsaws with scantily-clad lady vampires in them. There also used to be a couple of bookshops that carried the odd RPG book, usually something from WotC for the latest incarnation of D&D, but they’ve given up on it.

We’re back to the 1970s, when games were something you ordered by post from small ads in modelling magazines, which for some reason newsagents always shelved with the pornography. The magazines have also for the most part long since disappeared, replaced by websites. (Other high street staples of my 1970s gaming such as A5 paper, boxes of Lego minifigures, and cheap boxes of 20mm plastic soldiers have gone the way of the dodo as well, but I digress.)

Admittedly the internet has many virtues as a gaming forum, and the variety of games available is broader than ever before; but without the FLGS, it will be harder to meet new gamers and exchange opinions with them. My hope of setting up a weekly game in a FLGS if or when the current group implodes is dashed, because there won’t be a FLGS by then. Maybe I should start going to conventions again; Dragonmeet is still going, and appears not to have been wholly consumed by D&D or Warhammer, at least not yet.

It’s tempting to interpret this as the death of RPGs; but I’ve been playing for a while now and saw the rise as well as the fall. When I started playing RPGs, they were very much a niche; most people looked down on wargamers as sad anoraks, and wargamers looked down on roleplayers as sad anoraks. Then for a while the hobby grew popular and waxed fat, although it never really became mainstream; and now the niche is again shrinking, usurped by collectible card games, which in turn were superceded by computer games.

Will the tabletop hobby bounce back? Probably not; videogames have killed it and taken its stuff, assimilating the tropes in a way that is easier to learn and to play; but there is still something about sitting around a table rolling dice that no other entertainment medium I know of can match.

  1. I am sorry that things seem depressed locally, but it actually looks like tabletop gaming in general is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. The popularity of crowdfunding for RPGs and other tabletop games is growing at an incredible rate, and retailers are being supported with special options by many of the projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. GenCon attendance is up year-over-year, and my FLGS’s mini-cons sell out every time. My friend Sean Nittner has even launched a new, three-day local convention here in Oakland, Calif.,, now in its third year.

    Here are some links that might help you feel better: (an FLGS owner’s blog, where he shares tons of info on how the biz is doing) (my main FLGS, where they run a ton of events)


    • andyslack says:

      Thanks Eric – Black Diamond Games is especially interesting to me, not least because long ago I was a counter monkey in a little FLGS…

  2. misternizz says:

    Sad, but all too true. It’s far worse if you favor a niche-niche of the hobby that ISN’T Warhammer or Flames of War. Sigh.

  3. Sean says:

    Yeah, it’s not the same as it was. I just went to two different hobby shops looking for 1/72 plastics. The said they had ancients. 2 boxes is what I found. I’m set for WWII, ACW and Napoleonics but anything else I’ll have to stick to the internet.

  4. Andrei says:

    There was a time there were several shops even here in backwater Perth, Western Australia. It was always, always a special experience to browse a dedicated niche. Exciting. Elite.
    Of course the internet roleplaying niche presents a different kind of special experience. It doesn’t smell the same, or bring the taste of salt and vinegar chips and coke to the palette (your flavour may vary), but magic still.
    BTW, the Expanding Universe articles you wrote in early WD (early double digits? I don’t remember, but I still have the photocopies) inspired me to pick up Traveller, and its remained my favourite (vying with Runequest 2) ever since.

    • andyslack says:

      That would be WD13-16 inclusive. Thank you. 🙂

      • SundogUK says:

        My gaming career started @ WD19 but if I remember right, the Expanding Universe series was in the first ‘Best of…’ which I still have. Somewhere.

  5. vaultofknowledge says:

    I think location has a lot to do with it. Here in Dallas, my FLGS doubled its square footage last year and this year they moved into a space that used to be a grocery store. I don’t know how many thousands of square feet it is, but it’s enough for a dozen dedicated war gaming tables and over three dozen regular tables for general gaming. And that only takes up less than half the space. Plus we have Dallas Games Marathon, over two hundred people meeting every month for a weekend of tabletop gaming.

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